Steelers-Cardinals: The Real Travesty of the Super Bowl Officiating

robert aSenior Analyst IFebruary 3, 2009

In any given game, any player, coach, media member, or fan can point to a handful of plays that decided the game one way or another. Likewise, these same people can, and sometimes do, point to a few bad calls by the officiating crew that "cost their team the game."

Blaming the refs after a heart-breaking loss has become a "great" American tradition, one that everyone has been guilty of at least once in their lifetime.

In many ways, this is just human nature. It might be a cop-out, but it is easier than admitting that your team lost...and it was their fault.

As a player, you do not want to admit that you were outplayed.

As a coach, you do not want to admit that your game plan wasn't good enough.

As a media member, you want to create a good story that will help build your legacy as a writer or broadcaster.

And as a fan, you just don't want to admit that your team might not have been the better team. You don't want to wear an opposing team's jersey to work the next day or stand on a table in the break room and sing your buddy's team's fight song.

Put simply, your pride has been hurt.

As can be expected, officiating controversy has come into play regarding this past weekend's Super Bowl between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now, I personally did not have a dog in this fight, but I did have a team I was rooting for. I have no problem coming out and saying that I was pulling for the Cardinals, and I was pulling for them passionately.

It had nothing to do with Larry Fitzgerald, although I think he is a magnificent talent, a seemingly good dude, and one of the great young superstars in the league.

It also had nothing to do with the feel-good Kurt Warner story, although I certainly respect what he has done this season and admire the fact that he has come up from a nobody to a superstar...twice!

No, it had everything to do with my team, the Dallas Cowboys. Selfishly, I wanted my team to be the first team to get that coveted sixth Lombardi Trophy. So, for one night, I was a die-hard Arizona Cardinal super-fan.

All that being said, there is no need to fear. You are not about to be subjected to a breakdown of every missed holding call, should-be facemask, and bogus pass interference call.

I won't do that because, quite honestly, the majority of the game was pretty evenly called. Yes, there were bad calls, but they went both ways, and some of the more costly bad calls were corrected by coach's challenges.

Some people are complaining that there was a hold or a block in the back on the 100-yard interception return by Harrison. I never saw it, and I am not going to look for it.

The way I see it, it was not the refs that made Warner throw the interception and they certainly did not prevent the Cardinals players from letting James Harrison lumber 100 freakin' yards for a touchdown!

Holding happens on almost every play of every game. The majority of them don't get called. A supposed holding call on that one play was not the difference in the game.

Others will point to yet another Harrison play—the unnecessary roughness penalty. Should he have been ejected? Absolutely. Did it change the outcome of the game? Nope.

Late in the game, the Steelers' offense was the difference, not their defense. The presence of Harrison on the field did not stop Larry Fitzgerald from parting the (white? yellow?) sea on his way to a go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes of the game, and he certainly didn't help Big Ben and Co. march down the field for the game-winning touchdown.

While that cheap shot of Harrison's was a disgusting show of poor sportsmanship and classlessness that certainly merits a fine and suspension, the fact that he was not ejected had no bearing on the final outcome of the game.

I have even heard people complain that Santonio Holmes was not penalized for his celebration after the game-winning touchdown where he used the ball as a prop.

Yes, it is true that by the letter of the law, that should have been a 15-yard penalty that would be assessed on the kickoff, and that could have made a huge impact on the game.

Part of me sympathizes with the Cardinals fans who believe that should have been called. The other part of me is glad that it wasn't, and I hope and pray that "penalties" like that one will never be called again.

Who wants to win a game based on another team getting called for a bogus celebration penalty that 99 percent of the fanbase will argue is ridiculous at best? There are many reasons that people call this league the No Fun League, and the "ball as a prop" rule is one of them.

The only thing that irked me about the no-call is that I know that if that had been the Cowboys' receiver Terrell Owens, the flags would have been flying instantly. Still, that was a no-call that I am fine with.

So up until the last minute of the football game, I had no beef at all with the officiating. I was witnessing a great football game between two talented teams that were both giving everything they had.

What more can you ask for, right?

Then came what is now the infamous "fumble" by Kurt Warner.

It was, for all intents and purposes, the last play of the game, and the officiating crew decided that it was not worth taking a good, long, hard look at. Apparently it was so obvious that it did not even merit an official review.

Except it wasn't obvious at all. In fact, one view clearly shows (I believe) that Warner's arm was coming forward before he was even touched by the defender. By rule, that is an incomplete pass, not a fumble.

Now, many will think this is just sour grapes. I am just mad because the Dallas Cowboys aren't the first to six, right?

Well, yes, but it is more than that.

I think the refusal to at least take a second look at this robbed the Arizona Cardinals of a chance to win this game. If this call were to be reviewed and overturned, the Cardinals would have had about eight seconds left to score a touchdown from the 29-yard line (after the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty).

Is it very likely to see a touchdown toss of 30 yards with less than 10 seconds to go? Of course not, but the Cardinals also have Leapin' Larry Fitzgerald. If any team in the league is going to make that play it is the Arizona Cardinals, and they should have at least had the chance.

However, I think this non-review also robbed the Steelers.

Think about it. The team just won their sixth Lombardi Trophy. They should be able to celebrate like rock stars as the undisputed kings of the NFL.

Except they can't. Critics of this team will look at this play and say the Steelers didn't earn it. Considering the way the Steelers came back, I do not think this is fair, but it is also reality.

Big Ben and the Steelers offense marched down the field in a heroic effort to take the lead in the final seconds of the game, only to have that accomplishment cheapened by yet another unfortunate NFL officiating blunder.

Why not assure that the call was correct, and then, if it wasn't, let the Steelers vaunted No. 1 defense shut the Cardinals down for one more play? If that had happened, the outcome almost assuredly would have been the same, but without all the drama of speculation and conspiracy theorists.

Perhaps more than anything, however, this non-review cheated the NFL fans. This was one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent history (and some will argue ever). The fourth quarter could not have been scripted any better.

Then, with eight seconds left, the officiating crew elected to turn their back on what very well could have been a game-changing play. They robbed the NFL fans of one more exciting, heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping play.

Instead of getting to watch eight more seconds of what-ifs, the NFL fans were subjected to a measly kneel-down.


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